Telephone Recording, The Good And The Bad

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Individuals have found need to record phone conversations to insure accuracy in agreements and to prove that events had taken place. There is another use and that is to protect life, property and reputations.

A company or corporation can effectively use telephone call recording to monitor the effectiveness of phone sales or inquiries. They can monitor the performance of their employees and the effectiveness of the training program. Finally they can ensure that rules regulations and sales are in compliance with company rules and that there is an agreement in place between customer and representative. When there is a legal matter to discuss over the telephone an individual or firm may want to record the telephone conversation to insure the accuracy of statements and agreements between involved parties. Finally someone who is being threatened, lied about or intimidated may want to record a phone conversation to get the police or other authority involved. We will discuss the use and legality in this instance later.

When using phone calls recording a telephone conversation you must understand the difference between the one party and the all-party consent laws. Some states allow you to record a telephone conversation if only one party is aware of the recording. These states are as follows: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. All party consent means that all parties being recorded must be made aware and consent to the recording of the conversation. The states requiring this are the remaining 12 US states of: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. California has allowed the exception to the one party consent when one party is involved in criminal activity, extortion or blackmail. Arizona allows the subscriber of the phone service to record criminal activities with no party consent. The question that arises is; what can a person do if being harassed or threatened by another party involved in an illegal action. In these cases the individual must either accept the legal action that may be taken against them or go to the courts and get a legal action approved by a judge to record these conversations. There is a gray area of the law where the conversation is across state lines and the states involved adhere to different laws. In most cases the laws applying to the state where a court action is involved dictate the legality, however this cannot be assumed.

Getting consent for phone taps almost requires intervention from an attorney to make sure you have the correct phraseology. However in every case you must be clear about the fact that you are making an audio recording and this must be accomplished prior to the recording of the conversation. For your own protection the announcement and agreement by parties involved should be on the recording itself. In addition to consent some laws dictate the use of a beep or audible tone periodically during the conversation to make all parties aware the conversation is being recorded. Other states and government agencies do not require that this beep or tone be audible to the human ear.

What do you do if you think your telephone line is being wiretapped? Call your local telephone company and tell them you think you line is being tapped. They will check your line and if you are being tapped they will contact authorities to see if the tap is legal and if you are being monitored by a government agency. If the tap is illegal, the telephone company will advise you and give you information to take to the law enforcement authorities. However if the tap is legal the telephone company will not verify the phone tap or give you any information. There are no reliable devices in the marketplace that you as an individual can use to tell you if your phone is being tapped. You must rely on the telephone company for this service.

A Federal law enforcement agency may use telephone tapping when they have probable cause and a federal warrant. Some states have authorized wire taps for state law enforcement agencies in crimes involving murder, kidnapping or bombings. These lines of approval and law enforcement involving warrants can be very gray when terrorism is involved.

With every set of laws there are exceptions and hence the need for attorneys. The Telephone Company may listen to conversations to monitor quality of service or to protect itself against theft or harassment. Employers may monitor company employees on company phones with little or no restrictions. Employers to protect themselves should make employees aware of the potential of phone monitoring.

Digital messages and text cannot be monitored the same way as a voice message. While the courts have not expanded the laws on who may wiretap a communication, it has allowed that investigators must be given access to digital or test messages if they have the legal Federal or State authority and warrants to wiretap the conversations. This means with proper warrants the media company must turn over transcripts of these digital or text messages. This is called the Digital Telephony Act. Online services such as VoIP, America Online, CompuServe or the Internet are not subject to the Digital Telephony Act. However one using these services must be aware these services are not secure and can be monitored easily by anyone with computer skills.

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